On August 26, 2003, Namco released Soul Calibur II for home gaming consoles in the United States and Canada. Versions for PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube were released on the same day for the same price of US$49.99 (MSRP excluding tax). All three versions are excellent; I own the PS2 version and have played the two others on friends' consoles.

This game is one of the best fighting games you can get for a home console. It follows the original Soul Calibur, which was released for the ill-fated Sega Dreamcast, in providing excellent replay value and good qualities all around.

First off...

The Special Characters

People expect a laundry list of unlockable characters in a console fighting game. Soul Calibur II provides a few: Lizardman, Assassin, Berzerker, Sophitia, and Seung Mina can all be unlocked after enough play. However, what sets the different versions of Soul Calibur II apart are the console-specific characters.

Every console gets Necrid, a Todd McFarlane character who can use several other characters' weapons to do special moves. One additional character is provided in each version, and cannot be accessed on any other console:

  1. The PlayStation 2 version adds Heihachi. Heihachi joins Yoshimitsu as the second character to make the jump from Namco's other fighting franchise Tekken. His weapon, "iron fists," manifests itself in some severely overpowered punch combos that make him chiefly a close-range fighter. For those players who prefer to play cheap, Heihachi is blessed with the ability to juggle like few other characters.
  2. The Xbox version adds Spawn. Spawn, from the comic book of the same name, is in my opinion the coolest special character. He has an axe that, while not quite as large as Astaroth's, can be used for some punishing moves. Spawn is also very nimble for an axe-wielding character; some of his special moves even involve him throwing the axe and having it return boomerang-style. Spawn also has projectile attacks, rare in the Soul Calibur franchise.
  3. The GameCube version adds Link. Possibly the most bizarre of the three special characters, Link has learned a few more tricks since Super Smash Bros. Melee. He still has not one, but three projectile attacks: bombs, a boomerang, and arrows. Link has some really quick sword combos and his throws have become far more elaborate. The GameCube version includes a background tune based on the famous The Legend of Zelda overworld theme.

While Necrid frequently appears in Weapon Master and arcade mode, the console-specific character is mainly for the benefit of human players. Seasoned players now need to learn how to guard against three new characters, which may be tough for those who only have one game console at home.

The console-specific characters are not present in the Japanese version of Soul Calibur II, oddly enough. They are only present in the North American version, and should be in the European release as well.


The game looks and sounds the same on any console, but the different control pads control the game in a slightly different manner. Personally, I recommend the use of an arcade stick no matter what console you use. Electronics Boutique sells the Gamester Reflex arcade stick for PlayStation 2 and Xbox for about US$25. Hori makes a stick specifically designed for Soul Calibur II (complete with character art as decoration) for the PlayStation 2 and GameCube, but it's a Japanese item and costs $60-70 from your average import shop. The X-Arcade joystick, at about $100 for one player or $150 for two, provides a real arcade feel and can connect to any system with extra adapters (one included; extras cost $20-30 each).

If you're not willing to take the plunge for an arcade stick, the PS2 Dual Shock 2 controller feels most like the old Dreamcast setup. The Xbox's buttons are also set up in a diamond shape and mapped as on the Dreamcast and PS2. The GameCube controller's buttons are shaped differently, and from my experience require the most learning curve and/or reconfiguration before they become comfortable. Mapping a shoulder button to 'guard' helps with throws and some special moves.


The game is a quantum leap above the original, with graphics on par with any current-generation fighter (Virtua Fighter 4, Tekken 4, and Dead or Alive 3, to name a few). I haven't noticed a difference among the three systems using standard RCA outputs, but reviews suggest that the PS2's graphics look slightly jaggy when using component video for high definition output. The fighters are impeccably detailed and shaded, complete with obligatory T&A for the ladies, and the environments have fully 3-D backgrounds. Unlike DoA, there's no way to knock people into other sections of a stage. Some environments have ring outs on all sides; others are fully enclosed; and others still are partially enclosed.

Playing the Weapon Master mode lets you unlock extra artwork, both hand-drawn and computer animated.


Like the original, Soul Calibur II features a rousing orchestral score. In Japan, an OST sells for ¥3500 (about US$30) and includes a companion book. Soul Calibur II supports 5.1 channel surround sound on all platforms, although I haven't been able to test it. It sounds awesome on a good two-speaker setup.

The voice acting, expectedly, is atrocious. You have the option of hearing the tiresome pre-fight taunts in English or Japanese, but it would have been nice to just skip them altogether. Listen to the announcer's overblown intros ("A tale of souls and swords, eternally retold...") for comic relief only.

Weapon Master

Weapon Master mode replaces the Conquest mode that gave the arcade game such a lasting appeal. In Weapon Master, as in the original's "Mission Mode," you must defeat enemies using a certain technique. For example, some missions require you to use guard impacts or unblockable moves; other moves have zero effect. Some missions are incredibly frustrating, and must be reloaded from scratch when failed. The lack of a "Retry" button is frustrating, although "Give Up" is conveniently provided in case you can't wait 20 seconds to lose the mission.

As you go through the levels of Weapon Master mode, including dungeon levels and extra levels the second time through, you earn gold and experience. Experience points let you increase in level, although this doesn't improve your character any; and Gold lets you buy extra weapons and features. The strength of Weapon Master mode is in the ability to use up to ten weapons for each character. Each has its pros and cons. For example, Kilik's Kunlun Bamboo slowly heals Kilik but does less damage than Kilik's other weapons. Choosing the right character and the right weapon makes a big difference in many missions.

Weapon Master mode compels you to play with the lure of unlocking hidden features, but at the same time teaches you the proper techniques of fighting. Among the features unlocked are "Extra" modes like "Extra Arcade" that let players use acquired weapons in otherwise normal one-player and two-player games.


Buy this game.

Learn Soul Calibur II. Learn to guard impact. Learn how stances and well-thought-out soul charges are Namco's answer to Super Turbo Level 3 Ultra X Tag Combos popularized by Capcom and SNK alike. Play the game, fail a Weapon Master mission 13 times in a row, then come back so you can unlock Sophitia's third costume.

Soul Calibur II is one of the few games that costs fifty dollars and is worth every penny.

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